jhmitchell

The Jade Writer Girl


November 14, 2018

Sweet somethingS sweep over me.

A lonesome  sOlemn memory

But bright moMents persevere 

ForevEr here

Entwined To my soul

and Heart

insIde

This small & Naive little girl

   A woman Grown in part

   Wondrous, Wild & waiting

  Here withIn the world

    My simple souL not quite whole

A lonely buD, unfurled

Betwixt and Between is me

A girl, a womEn still to be     

     A meeting Then of chance

And fates sWeet romance

dEla!

he offers Everything

Forever aNd a day     

The sweeTness of I do

ecHoes

beneath thE sky so blue

And dancing in Delirious delight

  weAving

   betweenN the bright

 and endless Changing night

  we intertwIne our hearts

 as a New 

soul iGnites 

It stArts,

Deep withiN she grows

A tiny chilD yet known

Dreaming Days go by

A labouR of love

of anxiEty cries

of pAin

As she coMes to life

I am full and burstIng with discovery 

and Now 

I am somethinG more than me

Dear Reader,

In an effort to kick back off on the writing game after Little Miss has joined the scene, I’ve applied to be part of a local event called CreatePlace which is a movement designed to inspire creativity and writing in the local community. At the end of the two week course, I’ll have an opportunity to showcase some work, but seeing as it’s only a local event I thought I would share a little snippet of what I’ve been working on.

I hope you enjoy it, and keep an eye out for the rest, which I’ll be releasing on August 5th (just five days after my very first book becomes available: you can preorder here!)

Sincerely,

The Jade Writer Girl.

The glow from the tv illuminated ten faces in shadowy light. Tense and watchful, I half turn away from the screen, waiting with anticipation for the scare I feel coming and yet unable to fully break eye contact. I’m surrounded on all sides. A friend at my back, another in my lap and someone new at my side, an arm pressing against my thigh that I am all too aware of. What is this new feeling shivering along my skin setting the butterflies in my belly aflutter.

The scare erupts. The knife wielding orphan chasing away any nervous curiosity about the boy at my side. A scream bursts forth, unwanted and embarrassing and triggering a domino of “shit!” “fuck” “oh my god” as the whole room seems to lift off the ground and resettle on the floor.

As everyone turns to glare in half hearted teasing, I feel my face heat up. Why am I always the only one who screams?


July 4, 2018

Babies Breath

Every breath is precious

A gently falling snowflake

A featherlight touch

A dandelion in the breeze

A single droplet in an ocean of intakes

And exhales.

I watch her breathing.

In

Out

In

Out

Small snuffles and hiccups of noise both endearing and

Exasperating

In

Out

In

Out

Pause.

Eyes snap open, alertness bursting in on all sides

Squeezing

My chest an ache of panic and I think–

In

Out

Just overreacting

Precious breathing into the night

Sweet and soft

Until the crying starts.


June 2, 2018

Take the breast in hand

Hold it like a hand burger

Shove her face on

Dear Reader,

A labour of love is also a labour of pain. A pain that I wanted to recall before the pressing cloud of sleep deprivation takes it away from me. Why do I want to remember the pain? Because not only was the experience agonising, but it was also one of the proudest things I’ve ever accomplished.

Through my pain, I brought a tiny little human – grown within me through a pregnancy that was just as trying as labour – into this world.

Her due date was the 27th of April and there was some debate as to whether or not I would make it that far, mostly due to the concert I was adamant I was going to just one week before I was due (the 21st). Everyone told me I was crazy.

“You can’t go to a concert nine months pregnant!”

Of course I could! And I was going. I was going. My two favourite country music singers – Kip Moore and Lee Brice – were doing a concert together. Who knows if they’d do it again? Besides, as I told everyone, I had the midwife’s permission to go and anyway the hospital was just around the corner.

Cheeky exclamations of loud music bringing on labour aside, it seemed that someone just didn’t want to wait. This Mum-to-be was not going to get her last hurrah.

On Wednesday 17th of April I went to bed with a mild back ache. The same sort of back ache I get when Flo comes to visit each month.

I brushed it off. It was nothing. Just Braxton Hicks.

On Thursday 18th of April I texted my aunt. Braxton Hicks contractions. Been having them all night.

I received a text back. Are you sure that’s all it is? How far apart?

They’re irregular. But I’ve downloaded a tracking app just in case.

Another text back: Okay.

By lunch time, those “irregular” contractions were roughly ten minutes apart. But they could still be Braxton Hicks! I insisted via text message… hey, haven’t I already told you? I really wanted to go to that concert.

Meanwhile, my Aunt went shopping for the necessities I still hadn’t packed (well I was supposed to still have nine days to prepare – can anyone say denial?)

By 5pm it was obvious that this was definitely happening. Contractions were five minutes apart and it was time to call the hospital. Do we come in or not?

Well, being under the public system and living just ten minutes away from the hospital, they asked if I could wait until contractions were three minutes apart.

Sure. These contractions weren’t so bad. I could wait.

So far, this whole labour thing wasn’t as hard as I thought it was.

Ahahahahahahaha. Can anyone say naive?

By 7:30pm it was time to go to the hospital and I tell you, I’ve never been happier to live so close to a hospital because two contractions in the car was well and truly enough for me. We pulled into the patient drop off area and Hubby took me in while Aunty went to park the car for us.

Of course (along with not having my bags packed before that afternoon) we hadn’t yet done a tour of the birth sweet and had no idea where we were going. Hubby insists that he was looking at the signs and we were heading in the right direction, but thankfully we came across two lovely nurses who stopped to help us right as I was having a contraction.

A wheel-chair and several fast-paced turns later (obviously this was not the nurse’s first rodeo) and I was in the maternity ward. I thanked the nurses profusely – who had been on their way out at the end of their shifts. They wished me luck, and I was taken into my own labour room.

Standard questionnaires and tests and setting up in the room and I was feeling a little more at ease (if still in mild pain). Except then the contractions intensified.

I received a shot of morphine which slowed things down just a tiny bit, but they picked back up once it wore off. I tried the yoga ball, the shower, shifting my position. I tried sleeping (not doable, lying down sucked for contraction pain).

We discussed other pain relief. I didn’t want an epidural. The thought of being unable to move frightened me, and so I went with gas instead.

The gas is strange. You’re given a mouthpiece attached to a long tube which administers the laughing gas. You have to breath in and out into the tube in long, deep breaths for the gas to be effective, and it’s only short lived.

Now, here’s the thing. My breathing sucks. It’s short and it’s shallow and whenever I try to do any form of vigorous exercise I struggle because I can’t seem to get my breathing right (hence why I detest running). I have to really concentrate at it in order to get it right.

So breathing the gas was tricky. Sometimes it was good, because concentrating on breathing properly helped take my mind of the milder contractions. Sometimes it was bad because the pain was too high for me to focus on breathing properly and thus the pain relief wasn’t as effective.

Needless to say, it was going to be a long night.

My waters refused to break and I was dilating slowly. Thankfully I had help. After all my adamant declarations that I didn’t want anyone in there with me through labour (I was about to learn that modesty has no place next to that kind of pain), I was lucky and grateful to have Hubby and Aunty to help push me through.

They fed me water, they talked me through contractions, they handed me the gas, they helped me shift from position to position.

Here’s the things about positioning during labour – or the things I’ve learned anyway.

You don’t have to do it lying on your back. In fact, that’s the most unhelpful way to do it. I won’t go into the details because I’m not a professional and I’ll botch the explanation. But basically it’s harder on your back, there are more obstacles to push over. So I wanted to be upright, with gravity on my side. After a bit of shifting about I took a kneeling position on the hospital bed, so that I was draped over the raised end of the bedhead. It helped. The contractions weren’t so painful.

However, the midwife needed to turn me around onto my back in order to check my progress. As the night went on this became more and more difficult for me.

Toward the early hours of the morning things got worse. My contractions changed. The midwife burst my waters when I was eight centimetres dilated and once again my contractions changed. Every time I had a contraction my midwife wanted me to breath the gas. But every time I had to breath out into the tube, my body was telling me to push. They called this the transitioning stage. Only there was a small problem with that desire.

Little one wasn’t in an ideal position. She still had to turn to get into the right spot in order to come out.

I was under strict instructions not to push. It was the only thing I wanted to do. Not pushing took everything I had – for which I apologised for over and over.

I’m trying not to, I’m trying not to, I’m sorry, I really am. I’m trying. It’s just so hard.

Not pushing was possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

Two hours of fighting against my own instinct and I was deteriorating rapidly. The gas was no longer serving it’s purpose and my amazing husband was now having to turn me onto my back every time the midwife wanted to check on the progress; and then lift me back onto my knees so that I wasn’t in (as much) pain. He lifted my entire deadweight, and manoeuvred my uncooperative body into a less painful position a dozen times over.

Things were not progressing the way they needed to and the midwife decided it was time for an epidural.

In came the anaesthetist to explain – through my screams of labour pain – his obligatory spiel about how the epidural works and what they would do. None of which I heard and apologised profusely for screaming through (can anyone say “delirious with pain”?).

Yes, I apologise a lot. I’ve been told it’s a very bad habit of mine. In fact, I think I spent a lot of my labour experience either crying out in pain or apologising. Apologising for not being able to hold off on pushing. Apologising for squeezing hands too hard. Apologising for throwing away the gas. Apologising for not hearing people.

The midwife went to get a superior to get another opinion on my progress and I actually recall her saying to me with a laugh, “you’ve got to be one of the most polite mother’s in labour I’ve ever dealt with.”

The anaesthetist came back with his needle. I didn’t see him. I heard him return and later I was told he was there with his gloves on and the needle all ready to prep.

Thing was, I was spent and I just couldn’t fight it any longer. Not pushing was no longer an option.

It’s coming, I told them. I can’t stop it. It’s coming.

The midwife had another look. By this point I was stuck on my back. To have an epidural you don’t have a choice, it’s back or nothing. So when the midwife checked to confirm that, yep, the head was right there, there was no going back, no waiting for an epidural, no changing positions, because this baby was coming. Ready or not.

In the end, the push stage was over and done with faster than I could comprehend. Four contractions later, with three pushes each contraction and I was being presented with a daughter. I remember screaming a lot. I remember the popping pain, the swooshing feeling of ick, the relief when it was over just a short ten minutes after the pushing began.

Then, after it all, I was handed her. A baby girl. This tiny, purple, squashed, perfect little alien.

The proudest thing I’ve ever done.

Sincerely,

The Jade Writer Girl.

Dear Reader,

I’ve been fairly quiet lately, though not due to choice. My pregnancy was a little rougher than I’d expected (as you may have read in such posts as Aliens and Ice-Blocks), to the point where my writing was affected in a way I wasn’t anticipating. Among many other unexpected side effects of pregnancy, I got a spot of Carpel Tunnel that hasn’t entirely cleared up; thus writing has been a bit difficult what with numb fingertips.

Whilst I’m navigating this new era of my life in which I appear to be no more than a milking cow (I jest, but in all reality I love the little munchkin so much that having her out of my sight for even a moment sends pangs of anxiety shooting through my chest), I’m finally finding myself with a spattering of time to think about writing.

The time hasn’t yet expanded enough to actually get words down on paper, but I’m hoping that as life evens out and the little one and I start to get used to each other, that I will. Perhaps during those early morning stints at the feeding mill I might manage to start churning out words as well as milk.

In the meantime, I do hope most of you stick it out with me, and that I haven’t lost too many of you when I do start producing more work (which hopefully will be in the near future).

Sincerely,

The Jade Writer Girl.

 

The jail looms up in front of me, not as sinister as all the TV shows make out but not exactly welcoming either. It’s just a bunch of plain, square buildings connected by a tall, wire fence.

I rub the back of my neck. Feel the sweat of the summer afternoon building. Try to shake off the nerves. The hairs on the back of my neck prickle. This is a bad idea.

I roll my eyes. Don’t be a baby. Determined not to back out I square my shoulders and stomp up toward the entrance building.

The door buzzes open and I step through into air-conditioning and stale air. My hands are clenched into fists, and I stuff them into my pockets to try and hide the shaking.

Behind the visitors bench, a man looks up and it takes a moment for me to place him. His face fills with startled recognition and worry.

‘Freddie,’ he says. ‘What’re you doing here?’

I shuffle my weight from foot to foot and want to ask him the same thing. I feel the words on the tip of my tongue. No, not quite at the tip. At the back. Wedged in my throat. I don’t even bother to open my mouth.

Instead I feel for the stiff, folded piece of paper jammed into the pockets of my shorts, take two steps and deposit the crumpled forms onto the counter.

The officer—Bradley—stares at it. Tension coils around my shoulders as he picks it up and slowly unfolds it. He frowns down at the visitors form with my messy, scrawling information, his brows drawing more and more together as he reads.

He glances up at me, his face guarded. ‘You need parental permission for this, Freddie.’

I roll my eyes, yank my wallet out of my other pocket and slid my ID across the table.

Parental permission. How old did he think I was? Twelve?

Well, maybe. That’s how old I was the last time I saw him. I could see the memory written all over his face. The last time I had been here. Parol. I shudder. Glad that meeting hadn’t gone according to plan.

‘Oh…’ he says, staring at my licence and the dates confirming that I was, at least in this regard, adult enough to enter unaccompanied.

He glances up again and his eyes shift behind me, as if searching for someone else. ‘Your sister isn’t here?’

I frown and shake my head, indicating the form again where it says—in my hastened post-work bus-scrawl—only my name.

Bradley nods, a flicker of relief entering his eyes. For a second I think he’s going to say no anyway. I see the consideration on his face, in the tap of his fingers on the table.

Sweat beads on the back of my neck. Trickles down my shirt. Damn this heat.

‘Okay,’ he says at last, and I know, I know, that the only reason he does is because she’s not here. ‘Give me twenty minutes to call the guards and set up the meeting. But…look, I’m not comfortable with this. I know you’re old enough, but there’s a lot of history here, and I know you’re…well, never mind. Just, no contact, alright? None at all. I don’t want to have to drag you out of there.’

I nod, but the doubt doesn’t leave his face.

Can I blame him? After all, when it came to the term “hothead”, I was the very definition.

Twenty minutes crawls by. I sit in one of the four waiting room chairs and try not to let my impatience show. My leg jigs relentlessly. My hands sweat. I try not to think but, of course, my mind is in overload. Overcompensating for the deficiency in my throat.

Instead, I focus on feeling. Feeling nothing, and everything.

The chair is plastic and someone has burnt the edge with a lighter so that little bits of melted chair poke into my thigh. It reminds me of the chairs in high school, and I tilt back on the legs, stretching my back over the top of the chair.

My spine makes several, small pops as the stretch cracks all the tension out of place. I tilt my neck from side to side.

My new sneakers are too tight. They squish in my toes, jamming them too close together that they feel claustrophobic. Is it possible for feet to feel claustrophobic?

No, stop thinking. Just…feel.

The noise in my head begins to quiet and the door to the waiting room slams open.

I jump, glance up from my study of the linoleum floor, and see Bradley. He gestures with his head. As inconspicuously as I can manage, I wipe my hands on my shorts and get up to follow him.

Why the hell am I so sweaty? I’m fine. I have no reason to be nervous. I’m not the one who did anything wrong.

I’m not the one in prison.

When I step into the room everything seems to still. The sweating, the convulsive clenching, the rapid beating of my heart as it rams against my rib cage in protest, the endless stream of questions and thoughts catapulting around my brain—aching and unable to get out.

It all stops.

He blinks, eyeing me off with our mother’s eyes, a small smile playing at his lips.

‘Freddie,’ he says.

I want to say it. I feel it. Wedged there at the back of my throat, dying to come out, dying to prove that he can’t get to me. That I’m stronger. Stronger than him.

Bradley waves me through.

As I pass, he whispers, ‘I’ll wait here. Remember, no touching.’

His eyes are nervous, and his gaze flicks back and forth between me, and the man dressed in orange.

There are no other visitors today. It’s just us. Just Bradley, the guard outside, half a dozen empty tables, me and James.

James.

My fists clench.

I sit down.

‘To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?’

His voice sends memories scattering through my brain. The past is a barren landscape of dried and shrivelled up summer leaves and his calm question is the spark that ignites the wildfire.

Red.

Red and blue flashing and so many voices asking so many questions and her face is whiter than anything I’ve ever seen and still there’s red everywhere.

I blink. Try to refocus. Try to push away the gnawing horror of the realisation that someone could do something so horrible to someone they love.

How can he be so calm after the way he’d hurt us. The way he’d hurt her.

My fists uncurl from around the edge of my seat. I take a slow, steadying breath as subtly as I can manage and give my big brother a small nod.

His smile widens and I want to throw up.

What was I doing here?

As if reading my thoughts, James says, ‘you want to know why I did it.’

My mouth goes dry. The memories and questions explode in my mind. A cataclysm of noise that cascades into silence.

There’s a pad of paper and a lead pencil sitting to the side of the table. No doubt left by Bradley as a means for me to get this interview over with.

It doesn’t matter. Even if my mind wasn’t in such a mess, even if I could unclench my hands, I doubt I could keep them from shaking enough to write down any of my questions.

Besides. That’s not what I’ve come for. To write out my questions like some pleading child.

No, what I came for was answers.

So I nod. I do want to know why.

James leans forward, hazel eyes—so much like the memory of our mother’s—bright and alight with amusement. ‘Why should I do that?’

Why?

Because I’m your brother you stupid fucktard. Because it’s the decent thing to do. Because you owe us a god damn explanation!

Of course…I don’t say that.

‘She’s not like us, you know.’

Us? Us? A scowl twists at my face and I glare at him.

Red and pale and the screaming sirens and it couldn’t have been him it just couldn’t have, he’d never hurt her like that. None of us would ever hurt her like that!

No. No I’m not like James. I’d never carve up my own sister like a fucking Christmas ham. I’m not psycho. I’m not cruel.

The words are there at the back of my throat, crawling up to the tip of my tongue, clawing to get out. I open my mouth, ready to let them. Wanting, dying to ask him how.

‘How could you hurt someone who loved you so much?’

The words echo but I’m the only one who can hear them—reverberating around the confines of my mind. A silent scream. Nothing. Nothing.

My fists clench, my jaw clenches around the instinct to yell and rant and rave that doesn’t help me a single bit because even if I let myself, the god damn fucking words won’t come.

James smiles.

People always say how expressive my face is and I wonder if he can see the battle on my face. The rage. The defeat. The frustration.

He leans forward again, pitching his voice low and smooth, imparting a secret for only me. ‘Shall I tell you a secret?’ he asks, and cocks his head to one side, like a curious cockatoo peering in through a stormy window. ‘Shall I tell you why?’

My heart hammers. Everything within me stills.

He leans forward even more, a smile curving his lips. ‘Do you remember the Ouija board?’

My mind goes numb. A prickle of cold shivers along the back of my neck. James’ smile widens.

‘I did what I did, because you told me to.’

James chuckles and leans back, his eyes dancing. His gaze flickers over to the door where Bradley is anxiously watching. His gaze is shifting back and forth between us, no doubt wondering. No doubt worried. There’s something on my face. I know there is because I can feel it go blank.

People always tell me how expressive I am.

But right now all I feel is cold. My hands flex and clench. My mind tumbles over itself, trying to go back, trying to remember.

Me? He’s blaming this on me? He’s blaming what he did to her, the way he hurt her on me? That I somehow told him to…to…God.

A scream of rage catches in my throat. Tears of anguish well in my eyes. My fingernails dig into the calloused skin of my palm.

I stand. The chair clatters backwards away from me, ringing through the room.

I can’t focus. My vision is blurry and split. Two things at once. James’ casual, relaxed posture. The confident smile. The cocky delight. And a game. Played years ago on the lounge-room floor. Scary movies we were far too young for, spooky games and horror stories mingling into a night of raucous laughter and delighted screams of fright.

A Ouija board.

Because I told him? Because I told him?

‘Freddie?’

Bradley’s voice snaps me out of the eerie place I’ve stumbled into to. The haze breaks and reality whiplashes back in. I feel sick.

James is messing with me. I know that. It’s what he does. But knowing doesn’t stop it from working.

I realise I’m shaking. I tear my gaze away from James and over at Bradley, who has stepped into the room with a wide eyed gaze of concern.

My shoes squick along the floor as I turn abruptly. Bradley’s talking when I pass him, but I’m not listening. I push passed.

This was a bad idea.

What had I been thinking? Did I really expect him to be honest? Did I really expect…what…that he was sorry? It’s so stupid I want to laugh, but instead all I can manage is a strange sort of hiccuping half-sob that catches in my throat.

It’s my fault?

Is that what I came for? Is that the answer I wanted when I decided to come on this stupid, moronic quest? My sister’s life almost over, her skin marred for the rest of her life because of me? Because of a stupid game?

And what does that leave me with?

The keys slip out of my hand, tumbling down onto the gutter. I lean against the car, the warm metal hot against my forehead as I stare down at my keys. I can’t seem to muster the energy to get them.

It’s my fault?

Is that what I wanted to hear?

I turn away from the car and before I can even process the thought my feet have picked up a steady rhythm along the rough bitumen. The old highway is wide and sparse. I wear a path through the overgrown, browning weeds. Sweat builds up over my back and shoulders. The sun beats down on my shoulders like some oppressive overlord, the heat pounding down in time to each running step long after the sun has sunk low on the horizon.

I keep running and the words keep chasing me.

‘Because you told me to.’

It’s well after dark when I stop, and only because my legs refuse to cooperate. I sink down on the side of the road, panting and breathless, my throat dry and my mind numb.

My calf muscles begin to burn. My feet ache. Faint scratch marks wind their way up my legs where I had to track through some overgrown patch of bush on the side of the road.

After a long moment in which I give up trying to catch my breath, I pull out my phone. If I had the energy, I’d be surprised at the time. In truth I’m relieved. At least I won’t have to face her when I get home.

Seventeen years old and here I am, sitting slumped in the gutter in the middle of no where, glaring the contacts list in my phone through the unshed tears I’m fruitlessly trying to blink into submission.

Pathetic.

 

The room smells. It’s subtle, not strong or overpowering and not exactly unpleasant but there enough for it to be distracting.

Most people probably wouldn’t notice. Some—like the kind who come here—definitely would. It’s in their nature to notice. Which is why the scent is off putting.

I wrinkle my nose. Try to settle back into the couch. Glance around and try to pinpoint the source of the new smell.

A door opposite me cracks open. There’s a gold plaque with the words Dr Alice Brooks printed in slanted cursive across it, and it catches the faint afternoon light as the door swings open all the way.

Two familiar faces exit. The first, male and in his late twenties, pauses just passed the threshold. Dark blue eyes narrow at the sight of me.

‘Freddie,’ he says curtly, offering me a brief nod.

I return the nod with as much stiffness as I can manage. I want to return his greeting with one of my own. I imagine saying it. Pitching my voice low with deliberate, over the top gruffness.

‘Jerry.’

Behind Jerry, Dr Brooks is fighting a smile. I see the corners of her mouth twitch as she maintains a straight face—no doubt amused and exasperated by the solemn exchange.

Jerry passes by, casting me a suspicious look before he pushes through the reception door. I look down at my hands, consider making some smart retort.

‘I see he still hasn’t gotten over that yoghurt incident?’

But the effort just doesn’t seem worth it. Besides, something about the quip looses it’s touch without that added sting of being spoken verbally.

I sigh and push up to my feet.

Dr Brook’s eyes narrow in concern, and I avoid looking at her face as she steps aside, gesturing me through without greeting.

Without a word she closes the door and walks back to her desk, shoes clacking on the dark wooden floor. She sits, shuffling together the papers strewn across the tabletop before reaching for a purple manilla folder on the left hand side of her desk. It’s thick and full of loose sheets of paper, most of which are folded and stained with use.

With another sharp exhale of air I sit, and it’s like coming home after a long trip away. A trip were you’ve changed and home isn’t quite what it used to be anymore.

My fingers tap on the armrest as Dr Brooks shuffles through the papers. She pauses for a moment, one sheet of paper in her hand that she’s only pretending to read. I wait for her to decide which approach she’s going to take today.

‘How’s your sister?’ Dr Brooks asks, laying the sheet of paper on the table.

I shrug, stop tapping long enough to offer a thumbs up, and settle down in my chair a bit lower. Dr Brooks smiles and nods, jotting something down on a pad of paper as if I’ve just said something profound.

Who knows, maybe I have?

‘How’s Tim?’

I frown and my fingers stop tapping. I shrug, look away. I make some vague, half hearted gesture, waving the question away. Tim was Tim.

She jots down something else and glances up to peer at me. ‘Last time we spoke you and Tim were considering purchasing some cattle. How did that go?’

I sign the word ‘expensiveand make a face.

‘I see. And the foal? Did it sell.’

I nod.

‘I’m sure that made Tim very happy.’

I resist the urge to roll my eyes. Of course it made him happy. Though I’ve no idea what that has to do with me and this round of 20 questions.

She seems to read something in my face and her lips twitch almost imperceptibly. Like my silence is an old game between us, rather than the mountainous wall I can never seem to climb.

‘And what about the band, how is that going? Still getting weekend gigs?’

My fingers start to tap again and I stare out at the passing cars through the window. If I concentrate I can hear the low rumble, feel the soft vibrations pass through the building as heavy vehicles trundle pass.

I shrug again. I lift my hands, palms flat, facing down and shuffle them from side to side. Left, right, left, in one short movement.

‘Who is too busy? You?’

I shake my head. Lift my shoulders again. Start to wonder if I’m going to develop a twitch from all the shrugging.

‘That’s a shame. You enjoyed the band. Do you think it will pick up again once the others aren’t quite so busy?’

She’s fishing. The tilt of her head, the darkening of her eyes, that slight lift to her shoulders, it all tells me things. Communicates more than her questions ever could. She’s unhappy that the band has stopped. Why? It’s not like she’s the one who plays.

I sigh. Shake my flat palm from side to side. Drop it back down to my lap and stare at it.

‘And sports? How are they going? Are you still running track.’

I assume that my nod will please her, but her mouth tightens and she scrawls something else across her page.

The air feels stiff and the new smell in the waiting room has wafted into the office somehow. I sink further into my chair and glare at the pedestrians outside.

‘Joe Dench called me last week,’ she says.

My gaze flicks to her and then back to the window. Of course he did. That was the whole reason I was here, wasn’t it? Therapy in exchange for dropped charges over minor assault. I scowl and pick at the threads in the armchair.

‘He mentioned that Dr Rolfe has a new dog. A staffy that almost got put down at the shelter. Apparently someone stapled a flier for the dogs adoption on his front door? But you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?’

I lift one shoulder, offer her a half-hearted shrug.

‘You’ve been spending a lot of time at the shelter lately.’

I nod.

‘Why is that?’

‘Volunteer. Help walk dogs.’

‘I see.’

Did she?

Hell, did I?

She regards me for a long moment, and I wonder if she’s going to bring up the fight (if it could be called that). Is she going to address the issue that is the proverbial cat in the bag.

‘Alright, Freddie,’ she says, and I wait for the disapproval, the “you-need-to-find-another-way-of-expressing-yourself” speech that I’ve heard so many times before. ‘Tell me why you’re trying to talk.’

For a moment I’m frozen and left stumbling for a response. I shake my head, staring at her. My eyes feel too wide, my face too surprised. I try to control my expression but I can’t. I’ve never been able to.

‘You’ve been using your log in for the speech exercises I set up for you,’ Dr Brooks says, tilting her head as she watches me scramble for a denial. ‘You’ve never used them before. Fought any attempt to help bypass your inability to access words. What’s changed?’

My fists clench. There’s a long moment of silence in which Dr Brooks waits with an expectant expression and I remain silent and still. After a minute or two passes she sighs and closes her folder of notes.

‘I would like to reinstate regular meetings,’ she says, regarding me with an unhappy expression. ‘I think it was a mistake to let our meetings slip so far apart and I would like to…reassess things. We’ll have a full hour next time, if you’re agreeable?’

Her gaze holds me, and though her tone is questioning, I know there’s only one right answer. In truth, if I really want to refuse I could, but her fingers tap lightly on my folder, and I see the top report—the Police stamp in the top right corner. I wince. She has me over a barrel and she knows it.

We agree on bi-weekly meetings. I’ll have to miss two days of track, but it’s better than anyone at home finding out I’m back in therapy. God knows we’ve had enough of it in our family and besides, it’ll only make them worry—something I’ve so far managed to avoid.

I step out onto pavement, feeling the summer heat slip around me like a second skin made of heavy sweat. The afternoon sky is blue and devoid of clouds. There’s the barest hint of a breeze trying to stir, but unable to quite build up the momentum to be relieving.

I sigh and stare down at my hands. Dr Brooks is right. Once upon a time my inability to talk never bothered me. People assume I just don’t try. That I don’t want to. It’s all mental, they say. Maybe it is? I don’t know. I only know that I can’t, and that’s okay. Because I’m fine the way I am. Or…at least I was.

So…what has changed?

He leans up against the wall she’s standing at, stepping too close into her personal space. There is a moment, small and fleeting, that she is too focused on the display in the window to notice his presence.

When she does, her shoulders tighten, her hands flex by her side, and her body shifts ever so slightly to the left—away from him—as she glances up and to the right.

The eye contact is brief. As it always is. She’s never been one to stand her ground. I wonder if he knows this as he flashes her a toothy smile, coy and flirtatious.

Jerk.

He doesn’t see—or doesn’t care—that her returning smile is strained. Misses the pointed step away from him she takes as she pulls out her phone and pretends to check something.

They’re too far away for me to hear what he says, but it’s obvious from the flush that creeps up her neck that she’s not comfortable. She ducks her head, tucks her hair behind one ear, adjusts her shirt.

He probably thinks his tricks are working. That she’s getting all flustered and bashful under his attention. He doesn’t know her well enough to understand that she’s nervous. That his presence—standing too close, towering over her short stature, flexing his arm beside her—is doing the opposite of attracting her. Everything about him would be setting her alarm bells ringing.

I grit my teeth. Try to look away. Try to focus on something else. Remind myself that I’m not supposed to be here. Remind myself how angry she’ll be if I intervene.

It’s not like it’s my fault though. After all, she’s not supposed to be here either. I guess we both had the same idea, and really, it’s not a surprise that we’ve managed to pick the same stores for our Christmas Shopping. Still, I should know better.

I do know better.

I try to convince myself to leave, to focus on what I came here for.

Christmas shopping does not involve beating random guys up at the slightest provocation.

Except…except that as she pulls away from him—starting off at a brisk pace down the row of shops—and he follows her, I start to think that maybe it does.

I leave my half eaten lunch abandoned at the table and set off after them.

She weaves in and out if the crowd, small and unobtrusive and I see the moment he looses sight of her. See him pause, stupidly bright orange sunglasses making him a beacon amongst the crowd. His head turns this way and that and I think it’s over. I think she’s gotten away from him. I think maybe I won’t have to give any lessons in manners.

She darts sideways through the crowd, manoeuvring through a cluster of giggling girls to duck into a stationery store.

My eyes find Orange Sunglasses and I sigh. He’s seen her. I start moving at the same time he does, cutting sideways across the hall to intercept him.

Before he can enter the store and continue his unwanted attentions, I grab his arm and yank him back out of view.

‘What the fuck?’

He spins around and his expression has already lost that smug, self confident look and morphed into something irritated and outraged.

I want to tell him to go screw himself. I want to tell him he’s a sleezebag who should take a hint, I want to tell him that no, means fucking no and don’t go chasing after girls who clearly aren’t interested. Hell, I’d settle for a single word. A simple ‘pervert’ would be great.

But once again my throat refuses to unlock the sounds. I spend a heartbeat waging war against myself.

Speak. Speak god damn it. Say it. Say something, if only for her.

The words fail. I scowl, glaring back at this idiot who has turned my day of present shopping into a battle of self will.

‘What the hell man? What d’you think you’re doing?’ Orange Sunglasses says.

My glare intensifies. I glance pointedly into the shop but he’s either too stupid to get the hint or he’s being deliberately dumb.

He turns to go, shaking his head, and I grab him again, taking several steps backwards away from the store and dragging him with me.

‘The fuck? Get off me you loser!’

I let him go.

‘You wanna tell me what the fuck you think you’re doing before I break your face in?’

I raise my eyebrows and slowly the scowl turns into a wry smirk.

Well, here’s a language I can talk.

I punch him in the face.

Ten minutes later I’m sitting in security next to Mr Orange Sunglasses feeling much more relaxed. My ribs hurt and I suspect I have a black eye, but it doesn’t stop the satisfaction from creeping up my spine.

The door swings open and a familiar figure steps in. Heavy boots stomp across the floor as big, deft hands flick through a security report. Brown eyes lift from the paper as he comes around the table.

His gaze rests first on Orange Sunglasses, then on me, then lift skyward as resignation, irritation and bemusement cross his face.

‘Freddie,’ he says as he drops into the seat, his exasperated expression settling back on my face. ‘Any chance I can not run into you this week?’

I flash him a quick grin and a rueful ‘what-can-you-do’ shrug.

Officer Dench sighs. He drops the report onto the table, looks to my companion and leans back in his chair.

‘What’s your name?’

Orange Sunglasses glances between me and the Officer. ‘Brian,’ he mutters, his lip curling.

Dench taps his pen against the leaflet of papers in front of him. ‘Last name to go with that Brian?’

Brian scowls, slouching in his chair as he shoots me another glare. ‘Shaw.’

‘Hm.’ Dench jots down the name. ‘Any chance you were harassing a young girl today, Brian?’

‘What? No!’

Dench eyes him shrewdly, his brown eyed gaze narrowing. ‘Really, now? So you weren’t interacting with a young lady right before your altercation with Mr Hart, here?’

Brian looks lost. He glances at me, then back at Officer Dench. My fists clench under the table. Stupid prick has already forgotten her.

‘No, the psycho just hit me. I wasn’t bothering anyone.’

‘Sixteen, short, long dark hair, silver eyes. Got an odd scar on her left shoulder, might’ve caught your eye.’

Before Dench has even finished his description, Brian’s face clears, his eyebrows lifting and his eyes widening as they shoot in my direction and back again.

‘Nothing wrong with talking to a girl,’ he mutters with a scowl. ‘I wasn’t harassing her.’

Dench’s gaze slips to my face and back to Brian so fast that if I wasn’t watching for it, I would have missed it. ‘I’m sure.’

Brian leans forward in his chair and snarls, ‘I didn’t do anything wrong. He hit me. What’re we talking about a girl for? I was chatting to her, it’s not illegal.’

‘It is if it’s harassment.’

‘I wasn’t harassing her! We were just talking! And she said she doesn’t have a boyfriend so whats the harm?’

‘No…’ said Dench, tapping his pen again. ‘She doesn’t have a boyfriend. But she does have a brother.’

At first Brian is too clueless to catch on. His face goes white as he stares at Dench in horror. He’s misunderstood. Considering Dench is scarier than I am, I’m quite happy to let this misunderstanding draw out a little longer.

‘Now, if I were to get the young lady in question brought in her, what would she say about your…conversation?’

If possible, Brian’s face goes even paler. ‘I…I wasn’t harassing her, I swear. I just…I thought she was…interesting. I wanted to get her number that’s all, but she walked off before I could and that’s when this psycho hit me!’

Dench continued to tap his pen. ‘Hm.’

He glanced my way again, brief and inscrutable. ‘Well, let’s just say we forget this whole incident ever happened, eh? Wipe the slate clean, as it were.’

Brian started nodding, still pale-faced and Dench slapped the report closed, a bright smile lighting his face.

‘Excellent. Well in that case you’re both free to go. Let’s have no more brawls in shopping centres in the future and I think we’ll all be fine.’

Dench got up, tucking the folder under his arm and heading around the table. He opened the door and gestured for us to leave. Brian shot up and out the door, disappearing no doubt before the Officer could change his mind.

Off to harass some other girl, probably.

I rolled my eyes and stood.

Dench shifted, blocking the door as I approached. He rolled his eyes again and sighed.

‘Freddie…mate, I can’t keep doing this.’

I huffed and stuffed my hands into my pockets, dropping my gaze.

‘You’re sixteen, you need to stop getting into fights. He had every right to press charges, no matter what I said about your sister. Does she know you’re here?’

I slouched my shoulders, glanced sideways at him and shook my head.

Dench crossed his arms. ‘You shouldn’t be keeping tabs on her like this, you know she hates it.’

My gaze snapped up and I shook my head hard. I hadn’t been keeping tabs on her. They were just…there.

Dench sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. ‘Alright. I’ll drop it. But I can’t keep pulling favours for you. This is the third time this month and it has to be the last. I hate to do this but…you need to go back to your therapist. This isn’t a request. I want you booked in by the end of the week. I will check, you got that?’

I nod, gaze fixed on the floor and blinking. I’m not crying.

‘Alright, go on then.’

I bypass him without looking. I know he’s done me a favour. More times than I can count. I know that he’s right. But it doesn’t make it suck any less.

I abandon any further ideas of shopping and head straight to my car. Maybe I should go for a run?

It’s raining.

I like the rain. I like the pitter patter that overhangs the hush as all things become muted and quiet and soft. Sometimes I even like being caught out amongst the storm, the water sliding down my skin, sending shivers and goosebumps spiralling down my spine. Washing away everything else.

Except this time.

This time the storm isn’t enough to wash away the grease that clings to my hands as I try to turn the nuts loose on the flat tire. The storm was rough, and worsening with every passing moment. Wind ripped through the trees, dragging my sopping shirt around my body with ferocious ease.

Raindrops stung my face. Branches whipped around the car. Thunder rumbled.

The sky quietened, the rain lightening just a moment. A bolt of lightning cracked overhead, the boom reverberating through tree trunks, down to the ground and up through my bones.

Time to give up on the tire and get back in the damn car.

I shake my head free of water—or as free of it as I can get after the downpour. I scrounge around under the passenger seat for a towel and come up with an old shirt. I sigh. At least it’s dry.

Then I crawl into the backseat and decide to wait out the storm with a nap. There’s really not a whole lot else I can do. My phone is flat. If there wasn’t a cyclone looming in the distance I’d just jog to the nearest service station, but somehow I think that would be a bad idea in this weather.

At least none of the trees are too close to the car, so I don’t have to worry about getting squashed. So I settle down in the backseat next to the bundle of fur that’s currently shivering and pretending the world doesn’t exist. I shake my head, shove Sammy over a bit, and make myself comfortable.

It’s going to be a long evening.

The hard patter of heavy raindrops splattering down into a spray of rivers and currents cascading down the windshield is both comforting and frightening.

I close my eyes, sliding my arm over my eyes as I let the sounds wash over me. The old paddock basher shudders as the wind strains against it, howling in protest at the rust bucket that dared enter it’s path.

A high pitched whine—half muffled by the backseat and the fabric of my shirt—erupts from somewhere around my midsection.

Fur and whiskers tickle my ribs where Sammy has managed to burrow passed my shirt in an attempt to hide from the worsening storm. I scratch at his ears, keeping my breathing even and calm, relaxing my body next to his.

Cautiously, Sammy lifts his head to stare at me with large brown eyes.

His nose is speckled in grey furs, spattering out noticeably amongst the rest of his black fur. The rain, if possible, becomes even heavier, and Sammy shudder’s, ears flattening to the back of his head.

I give him another scratch, shifting my hand to under his chin where I know he likes it best.

Outside the world has disappeared into a void of indistinct greys. The rain is so heavy, I can’t even see the jacaranda tree I’m parked five metres from.

Thunder crackles and booms, sparks of light occasionally lighting up the greyness.

After an hour or so I spot a leak in the back door seal. I only notice because the water drips down on to my forehead and startles me awake. I scowl up at the window and lean up to have another look outside.

Water. Endless torrents of water.

I sigh. I glance at Sammy, who’s head is resting on my stomach. ‘Not near a bridge at least.’ I sign to him. He stares back at me, completely uncomprehending of course.

I wonder if I could teach Sammy to respond to sign language. Most dog training is based on hand gestures, and there was that story on the internet about an orang-utan that learnt sign language.

Thunder shakes the car and Sammy whimpers again, shuffling his body around and trying to burrow beneath me. I laugh, but my gaze flickers back outside.

No bridges, a couple of trees, and the car is old and heavy—but none of that means anything if someone comes driving along the old highway. They’d be crazy to, of course. It’s far to dangerous to be on the road, but when had that ever stopped anyone?

If they didn’t see us, we’d clean up pretty well—even pulled over as we were.

I sigh again and try not to think about it. Nothing I can do at this point except ride it out. I wonder how much longer it’ll last.

My thoughts drift. Absently I reach for my pocket, toying with the letter there that’s no doubt beyond salvation, as wet as I got trying to change the tire. I don’t bother pulling it out. It’ll probably rip apart.

It doesn’t matter. After reading it several dozen times in the four weeks since I’d gotten the letter, I have it memorised.

Freddie,

It’s been five years. I figure we should talk. There are some things I want to tell you.

Your brother,

James.

Deep breath in, roll onto my side, scratch Sammy behind the ears, and let it all out with exaggerated slowness.

I am calm.

As calm as I can be when my older, psychotic brother suddenly wants to have a heart to heart from jail.

‘What do I do?’ I ask Sammy, who just stares me unhappily from my mid-section as another crackling boom shakes through the car.

I know instinctively that I shouldn’t go. He wants my attention so he can mess with my head. That’a what he does. What he’s always done.

Yet…yet I want answers.

There are questions burning within me. Have been burning ever since that night when they took him away, and took her to emergency.

I sigh and shift uncomfortably on the backseat. Another crackle of lightning echoes my disintegrating mood.

Questions or not, how can I talk to him when I can’t speak?

I sit up abruptly, startling Sammy. With a silent snarl I pull the sodden letter from my pocket, scrunch it up and yank open the leaking door.

Sammy scuttles away from the billowing rain and howling wind as I pull back my arm and toss the crumpled soggy ball of paper out into the storm, slamming the door shut again as if I can shut it all out.

Time to forget James and his stupid letter. Let the storm take the damn thing and tear it into nothingness. All I had to do was go back to pretending he didn’t exist.

That was all.

That was for the best.